You in your marriage

That’s just great: according to the latest study the US has the highest divorce rate in the world.  The world.  Think of all the countries we had to beat out for that distinction.  Recently a married friend in his 40’s told me it seems like a lot of couples his age are splitting up.  My generation (boomers) is even worse.  In 1990 fewer than one in ten Americans who got divorced were over the age of 50.  By 2009 it was one in four–“Grey Divorce” AARP calls it.  Many of these 25% going their separate ways throw away a couple of decades or more.

It’s no surprise when unbelievers take a utilitarian view of marriage.  “It’s a social/pleasure contract and as long as it does more for me than it hurts me, I’m in.  If it becomes too unpleasant with too many unkind words, too little consideration, too much of your mama, too little sex or too little money, I’m out.”  The prevailing notion that each person has a single soul mate (your perfect match) out there tends to loosen people’s grip on their marriages.  “Surely if I came home to my soul mate every day, she’d/he’d appreciate me better than my spouse does.”  Whether pleased or displeased with our marriage, we humanly and sinfully take credit for what’s going well, and blame the other for what’s not.

[Because I’m happily married some have hinted I’m unqualified to speak to unhappy marriages.  Huh?  Maybe that’s where the cliche “Misery loves company” originated.  I’ve learned that some people think my wife and I just happened to land a good mate.   But Betty and I are not happy because we’re the perfect mates for each other.  Not every day in the last 40 years has been a roses-and-valentines-day.  We picked up some bumps and bruises along the way and have not always been satisfied with our marriage–or each other.]

52 year-old Debbie divorced her husband after 20 years.  “Emotionally, physically we just couldn’t relate to each other anymore…”  50-something Thaddea also ended her marriage  last year.  “I decided to take the risk on myself and take a chance on myself to see what could I do on my own.”

“Myself.”  “Me” matters most.  Hardly a novel observation about the human condition.  Or about marriages.  At least occasional dissatisfaction is part of the landscape of every marriage.  People who stay married accept that some dissatisfaction is normal.  Beyond that, Christians realize that God’s main job is not to ping their happy meters.  He calls believers out from the world to be beacons of light for His glory–which for some means prison or a hangman’s noose.  For many, many husbands and wives, it means staying in an imperfect marriage because they promised “for better or for worse”. 

Then again, you don’t have to just endure.  See what you can do with the person you can change: you.  Unhappy spouses often sound like defendants in front of the judge: “Somebody else did it.” 
“It’s her fault.”  
“It’s his.”

Not so fast.  Every marriage boasts two sinners.  Maybe one’s the primary cause, but both sin so both contribute to problems.  You can’t fix the other sinner but you can work on one all by yourself.  Even just one person’s efforts can enrich almost any marriage. 


Author Gary Thomas asks this provocative question in Sacred Marriage, What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?  Making a Christian more and more holy is the Holy Spirit-run operation called “sanctification” (Rom.6:19).  With his unnerving question, Thomas suggests that the normal wear and tear of married life may be one of God’s main tools to round off our rough edges, and expose our pride and selfishness.  In other words, maybe your marriage tensions aren’t accidental.  Maybe God’s in the thick of it for His glory and your good.

Kathleen and Thomas Hart write, Sometimes what is hard to take in the first years of marriage is not what we find out about our partner, but what we find out about ourselves.  Amen.  Or in the third decade.